My Personal Literary Theories: Why I Do What I Do

Every week, my hall or the adjacent hall will post inspirational verses for the girls in the dorms.
Every week, my hall or the adjacent hall will post inspirational verses for the girls in the dorms.

When I first began my college course in Writing Theory and Ethics, I had little to no intention of writing down my own theories of writing outside the class, thinking that theories were only set aside for academic exercises or dissertations. But now that I have taken this class, I see that I’ve been writing down my theories ever since I began my novels in high school. It was just a matter of recognizing my own patterns of thought and seeing those patterns play out in my fiction.

When I took classes in literary theory and creative writing, I began my own diary in which I revisited events of the day and sometimes jotted down clips of creative writing that I didn’t use for my assignments. As I matured in my writing and pursued my love of novels, I began to see patterns in how I thought and how I formed my stories. Sometimes those stories followed a similar motif, such as how I view a hopeful versus a happy ending and how I insinuate my faith into my writing so that my Christianity appears normal rather than contrived.

As I added my minor in journalism, I began to condense my diction and form my style with more action-packed syntax. Now I see the world through a journalist’s eyes, replacing my prepositional phrases with clear-cut nouns and verbs that grab my readers’ attention.

But my love is novels, and though the economy has shifted in favor of technical and journalistic writing, I have coupled my love for novels with my skill in journalism and have found social media to bridge the gap between classical literature and contemporary trends. It is actually in the ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter that I have begun establishing my presence as a writer, and as I tweet, text, and post “likes” on my statuses, I am beginning to see that the trends in our culture are helping me build a happy podium on which I can establish my career as a writer.

Throughout the journey of developing my personal literary theories, I have delved into greater strides of what I truly believe to be my own theories on faith, fiction, and journalism. In all my writing, I’ve noticed that I carry a thread of hope in my work. Whether it’s in newspaper articles, novels, or academic prose, I’m always writing with the clear vision that my readers will glean hope from my writing, and it’s because of my love for and belief in God that I’m able to portray hope in my writing and see this whole world as a reflection of His glory and workmanship.

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Twelve signs you’re a true English major…

photo (1)
It was the saddest day when I had to return these to the library. They were my greatest friends during my senior literature project.

It’s my senior year, and I’m finally realizing the true characteristics of an English major. We’re tough, strong, and self-conscious about our grammar. We love books, Oxford commas, and bubble gum shaped like Shakespearean books. But most of all, we love that we can geek over little things together, small things like correcting our classmates’ grammar or editing a romance novel we got for homework.

I admit it: We’re geeks to the extreme core.

If you’re anything like us—or worse, if you’re an English major at all—you’ll notice that you’ll find some predilections very common in your daily or semester routines. And if you abide by these characteristics, I’m very sorry to say that you are a true English major; there’s no going back.

  1. You memorize every famous line by Shakespeare and apply Hamlet’s soliloquy to your daily life: “To sleep or not to sleep; that is the question…” you say during finals week, for instance.
  2. You love endnotes because they look cute, and you use them just for fun.
  3. By your sophomore year, you’re writing 10 pages on two stanzas of poetry, and you actually enjoy it.
  4. You have erasers or bubble gum shaped like your favorite classical books, like Canterbury Tales or Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  5. You know Colin Firth only as Mr. Darcy.
  6. You carry three bibles with you: Associated Press (AP), Chicago Manual of Style and MLA.
  7. You don’t love your Chicago Manual until you carry it with you everywhere, even in the kitchen.
  8. You get the greatest thrill from editing commas in a proofing project, especially if it’s a romance novel.
  9. You live in the library’s basement, and you know all the librarians by name.
  10. You feel you have no purpose until your next big paper; you actually cry when your senior project is over.
  11. Fridays are the saddest days because there’s no school until Monday.
  12. You get goosebumps from reading your favorite novels, and when you return your library books, you feel like you’re parting with old friends.

Hanging out with English nerds makes me realize not only the geekiness of my life, like the way I geek over Shakespeare books in the form of bubble gum, but also the severe fact that I’ll never escape these traits in my whole life.

Let’s face it: we’re either born English majors, or we’re morphed into being English majors. We live three to four years at college, get acquainted with our professors, and sooner than we know it, we’re drawn into studying literary criticism, analyzing poems for pentameter breaks, and when we go home we’re automatically correcting our siblings’ composition papers—just because we can.

We can’t change who we are, but even if we can, we realize we find greater joy in stressing over pentameters and Milton’s Paradise Lost than we would ever have over anything else. We love what we do, and it comes from the long hours we’ve spent together, the repeated assignments we’ve shared in freshman composition or introductory courses in Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer. And finally when we get published in our university’s literary magazine, we feel the same thrill of ecstasy and relief.

Only by living out these qualities do we finally realize the true depth of being an English major. Coming all this way to a university makes me appreciate my field even more, and I relish every moment of it.

Technology & Writing: Does Social Media Erode Our Language?

The corridor of uncertainty, by Jemimus
Photo Courtesy of Jemimus

I have only recently entered the realm of social media, and while I have been raised on English literature and lengthy novels, I have found a new love in the language of journalism and social media. My diction is now vitalized with action-packed verbs, and I enunciate exactly what I mean in 600 words or fewer, whereas before I exhausted my sentences with multi-syllabic words. And though my diction is much simpler, I have not sloughed in my writing, but rather have gained an appreciation for a condensed version of the English language.

But I am miffed whenever I hear discussions about social media eroding our language, especially through Facebook and texting. One of the main critics of this discussion is Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, who says that we now read newspapers on a fourth-grade level. When once we knew about 20,000 words in our English language, perhaps from the peak of our college days, we now use only 2,000 a week, even though a million other words in our language lie waiting for us to use them. As I compare her statistics to the length of our sentences and the precision of our vocabulary, particularly in journalism, I agree that she’s right. And yet I do not find social media to impede our use of the English language. If anything, it has taught me to pack a punch in my words.

From when I first arrived at my university, I’ve been taught to sharpen my diction and tighten my syntax. In the student newspaper, my paragraphs shortened from five sentences down to three or one. It was the length that mattered, my professors said. Anything longer would lose my readers. As I became Feature Editor, I truly learned the importance of brevity. In fact, as I was writing headlines and photo captions, I learned it’s not the body of the article that people first read, but rather the headlines and captions that give readers the gist of what they want to know.

As I’ve shortened my own sentences, my academic diction has been replaced by what McEntyre might call a fourth-grade level of vocabulary, yet I have by no means degraded my journalistic writing, only altered my prose to reflect our natural rhythm of speech. I’ve noticed that in daily conversation, we often never speak more than ten or fifteen syllables in one breath, and only in our academic writing do we extend our breaths to about twenty syllables with words such as demonstrative, pedagogical, and constructionism.

These are the words most readers would dismiss, and although I have no problem with shortening my words, I remember McEntyre’s critique and see how we have unwittingly altered our diction to match the increased pace of our lives. As we’ve moved from walking on lanes to speeding on highways, we’re constantly being distracted by various forms of social media. Matt Richtel, a New York Times journalist, says that in general, we’ve cut our attention span because of our addiction to a chemical called dopamine, which emits adrenaline every time we receive a text message or other digital notification (“Digital Overload”). It’s like we’re drawn to the excitement of getting a message—like opening a present, something just for us—that propels us to check our phones or log onto Facebook nearly every hour every day.

Even though critics denounce this technology for weakening our prose, I see that it’s a matter of choice and discipline whether we choose to browse Facebook or pore through a book. Our digitalized culture is not necessarily a bad thing, but merely a reflection of our times. It’s a matter of habit regarding what we choose to write and how we choose to write it. We ourselves cause the laziness when texting, not the technology. We only excuse ourselves by saying that Twitter restricts our messages to 140 characters or fewer. But to get back on track to reading longer prose, we can train ourselves, if we choose, to spend a few hours on books or read one novel after the next. I, for one, choose to continue on social media, because I see here the prospects of establishing my presence as a writer and making myself a more vivid writer.